This is the Life: A blooming good time

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Our second trip from Calgary to Creston in 1979 was to try to find a place to live. We had been down a few weeks earlier and I had been hired by Creston Valley Advance owners Bill and Sue Betcher. We had no idea that Blossom Festival weekend wasn’t the best time to look for a rental.

On arriving in Creston we found that our request to the Betchers to book us a motel room had gone unheeded. No need, they said, you can stay at our house. We spent time driving around the valley, looking for what was at that time a pretty much non-existent place to rent. A mobile home in Canyon Park was about the only thing that seemed available and we eventually decided we didn’t want to live that far out of town, having only one vehicle.

What we did find, though, was the striking beauty of the Creston Valley in full bloom. Apple blossoms were brilliant white, interspersed with the occasional plum, peach, apricot and cherry blossom. Everywhere we looked there was evidence of the wonderful growing capabilities of a valley whose climate is moderated by Kootenay Lake.

I suppose we took in the parade and other festivities, but my clearest memories start on Saturday night. Bill decided to introduce me to the drinking establishments in town and apparently Sue did the same courtesy for Angela. Bill and I spent time in the Kokanee Inn, and the Creston and Kootenay Hotels, as well as the club then in operation on Railway Boulevard.

While I couldn’t swear to it in court, I suppose we drank more than was necessary, because I remember waking up in Betchers’ home on Sunday morning, hearing the sounds of CBC Radio playing through my pounding headache. Eventually Angela and I dragged our way down to Smitty’s — now ABC Restaurant — for breakfast. It seemed like half the people there had been in some sort of fight the night before. There were black eyes, bandaged heads and appendages and crutches everywhere we looked.

We didn’t find a place to rent on that weekend and the next week I came alone, ready to start work while living out of the Valley View Motel, which would become our home for the summer, once Angela finished out her job in Calgary.

I do remember opting out of attending the popular outhouse races, which didn’t hold much appeal for us at that time. Mostly, though, the memory that has stayed with me all these years is the hive of activity that Creston became on that weekend. In fact, I still get a rush of excitement when, late in the week just before the festivities begin, traffic begins to flow in to town, many of the vehicles bearing out-of-province license plates. Families no longer arrive, as they did in the 1960s and earlier, to load up on fresh fruit, which they took home and canned or froze for their winter consumption. But people, many of them former residents, do come back, in large part to meet up with family and old friends. For many, Blossom Festival is the first sure sign that summer is about to arrive, especially when the weather co-operates.

On this, the 70th anniversary of the Blossom Festival, my thoughts turn to the late Lela Irvine, who quite literally saved the annual event from disappearing altogether. It had been struggling for several years when she declared that Blossom Festival was too important for the Creston Valley to lose. She visited service clubs and other organizations, gathered some friends together and, through sheer strength of will, kept the festival going until it regained some of its lost momentum.

It couldn’t be more fitting that organizers are dedicating this weekend to Lela. It’s our first Creston Valley Blossom Festival in memory — perhaps ever — that we will celebrate without our dear friend and tireless promoter of our community.

While we are enjoying the many events and the company of our visitors, let us remember to say a silent word of thanks to Lela Irvine. Without her efforts this might have become just another long weekend to go somewhere else to find our fun.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.